Marking the 200th Anniversary of Charles Darwin’s Birth

12th Feb 2009

Marking the 200th Anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth

The Telegraph (31st January 2009) and the Guardian (1st February 2009) report on a survey entitled “Rescuing Darwin” conducted by Theos, a theology think-tank. According to the survey, half of the British adults surveyed do not believe in evolution. Moreover, only 25% believe that evolution is "definitely true".

James Williams, a lecturer at Sussex University, is reported as saying:

Evolution is very badly taught in schools so the results of the survey don't surprise me.

Truth in Science is inclined to agree. Evolution theory must be taught much more thoroughly if the public are to be convinced. We need to critically re-examine the so-called evidences of evolution without recourse to the blind presumption that evolution is a “fact”. Adam Rutherford is predictably incensed. He states in his comment in the Guardian of 2nd February:

Another day, another creationism survey. Godly think-tank Theos have conjured yet another set of figures that reveal just how dim Britain is when it comes to evolution. This time, it's the atheists' fault.

This is a very interesting statement. Apparently, Theos have conjured up the figures. But why should this be? Theos have no creationist axe to grind. Quite the opposite, this survey has been done in association with the Faraday Institute which is predominantly Darwinist in outlook.

Theos have also reported on their findings. They try to explain the reticence of the general public:

Popular opinion encounters Darwinism not so much as a well-testified and supremely elegant scientific theory, but as a quasi-metaphysical one, an outlook on life that has become inextricably linked, through the purple prose of its most eloquent modern advocates, with reductionism, nihilism, atheism, and amorality.

This Darwinism is one in which morality (in as far as we can still talk about it) becomes calculating and fundamentally self-interested, ethical systems arbitrary, agency an illusion, and human beings completely irrelevant and accidental. Love, charity, compassion, and altruism are "tendencies... grounded in underlying selfishness. The human mind is "an artefact created when memes restructure a human brain so as to make it a better habitat for memes." The universe is reduced to "blind forces and physical replication" with "no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.

According to Rutherford, the atheists have to work harder to convince the public that their worldview is actually to be preferred. Quite rightly, he makes the connection:

When Theos makes this association, let's be honest, they're knocking Richard Dawkins. Although he has profoundly influenced my intellectual development, I accept that he can be divisive.

There is none so blind and those who will not see. Rutherford himself is a committed atheist and has difficulty in recognising that there are other legitimate worldviews. He goes on:

Theos also say that it is possible to be a Christian and accept evolution as fact. Empirically, of course this is true: there are outstanding scientists who are religious. If one takes a deist view, that there is a non-interventionist supreme absentee landlord who set up universal rules, and let them play out forever, then evolution is perfectly cromulent to Christianity. God hasn't actually done anything for 13bn years. I've got no real beef with this, though it seems pointless, a metaphysical mumbling excuse for why there is something rather than nothing.

We are not sure that there are many religious scientists who would agree with Rutherford. Like Richard Dawkins, he is prepared to tolerate a deistic God but the major religions are profoundly theistic. Accordingly, human beings have an innate sense that somehow or other the supernatural is involved and thus many remain sceptical. As Rutherford points out:

Of course there are religious implications for the truth of evolution. But if so many people truly do not understand it, and some people are indeed driven away from understanding it by an association with the personalities of atheism, then this is a losing battle.

In this bicentennial year with all its media coverage you would think that more people could be persuaded. However, the blinkered approach may well have the opposite effect. Rutherford continues:

We must use this bicentennial year to promote understanding the science of evolution. When this truth is the dominant view, I'm sure that many more people will migrate from irrational and frankly daft fairytale views about the origin of species.

The prospects are not good. According to an article entitled “Natural born believers” written by Michael Brooks for the New Scientist (7th February 2009), 84% of the world’s population believe in a supernatural force of some kind. The theistic religions of Christianity and Islam comprise more than half of this number (see figure). Apparently, humanity has an innate predisposition to believe in the supernatural as the article makes abundantly clear. The reasons for this will most certainly differ and the determination of some to equate evolutionary theory with atheism is unlikely to succeed even in another 200 years.

In one of his responses to the numerous comments made to his original article in the Guardian, Rutherford admits his confusion:

That's not to say I understand how being religious and scientific works ... I assume that in modern times this relies on a form of mental compartmentalisation that allows simultaneous but non-overlapping truths. I've not come up with a more convincing explanation, but would love to. In this context I'm just hoping for the elimination of anything but the theory of evolution as an explanation for life on earth. Unless an alternative credible scientific theory comes up, which currently seems unlikely.

Truth in Science will continue to encourage an openness which allows for a critical examination of the evidence for the Darwinian hypothesis without recourse to any particular worldview.